Senators Could Dethrone King Corn in Ethanol Standards

TELTOW, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 13: Stalks of corn stand under a blue sky during harvest on September 13, 2012 near Teltow, Germany. The annual corn harvest is underway in the German state of Brandenburg, where corn is widely planted and used for animal feed as well as the produciton of biofuels. Analysts recently predicted that German corn farmers are likely to benefit from global warming, as higher temperatures will mean an earlier planting season.
National Journal
Clare Foran
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Clare Foran
Dec. 11, 2013, 9:05 a.m.

Sen­at­ors are work­ing on sep­ar­ate bills to ag­gress­ively re­duce the amount of corn-based eth­an­ol re­quired un­der the re­new­able-fuel stand­ard.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Sen­ate En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee rank­ing mem­ber Dav­id Vit­ter, R-La., touted le­gis­la­tion they have been work­ing on to­geth­er to amend the man­date, which re­quires blenders to mix eth­an­ol with gas­ol­ine, dur­ing a joint hear­ing held Wed­nes­day by the com­mit­tee and its Clean Air and Nuc­le­ar Safety Sub­com­mit­tee.

Neither sen­at­or spelled out the de­tails of the bill, which has not yet been form­ally in­tro­duced, but Cardin em­phas­ized that it would draw­down the corn-based eth­an­ol por­tion of the man­date while pro­tect­ing the quotas for ad­vanced bio­fuels.

“[The RFS] needs to be bet­ter bal­anced for en­ergy se­cur­ity, food se­cur­ity, and mo­tor safety. There are more ef­fi­cient re­new­able-en­ergy sources in the ad­vanced bio­fuels, and that’s what we should be fo­cus­ing our at­ten­tion [on],” Cardin said, adding that he and Vit­ter are look­ing for ways to “make ag­gress­ive re­duc­tions on the volume man­dates for corn-based eth­an­ol.”

The sen­at­ors also em­phas­ized that while they want to change the man­date, they don’t want it elim­in­ated.

“The goal is not to re­vis­it the Clean Air Act, to do away with the pro­gram, etc.,” Vit­ter com­men­ted. “Many of those things I would sup­port, but in the con­text of work­ing on this bill, that’s not only not the goal, but I will op­pose amend­ments that do that, so it’s just go­ing to be about that sort of im­port­ant re­form to this pro­gram which I think is ne­ces­sary.”

A spokes­wo­man from Cardin’s of­fice did not com­ment on any spe­cif­ic pro­vi­sions, say­ing that the le­gis­la­tion has not yet been fi­nal­ized. She did, however, re­it­er­ate the sen­at­or’s sup­port for ad­vanced bio­fuels un­der the pro­gram.

“Sen­at­or Cardin has been clear that re­forms needed should mit­ig­ate the harm the pro­gram is hav­ing on tra­di­tion­al corn users, pro­tect the in­terests of con­sumers, and as­sure steady growth and op­por­tun­ity for truly ad­vanced bio­fuels from feed­stocks that don’t com­prom­ise our food se­cur­ity,” said spokes­wo­man Sue Wal­it­sky.

Aides from Vit­ter’s of­fice did not im­me­di­ately re­turn a re­quest for com­ment.

Na­tion­al Journ­al re­por­ted in Ju­ly that Cardin was draft­ing RFS-re­lated le­gis­la­tion and that the sen­at­or has been mo­tiv­ated, in part, by the con­cerns raised by poultry pro­du­cers that the man­date’s corn-based eth­an­ol re­quire­ment is caus­ing feed­stock prices to soar.

An­oth­er bi­par­tis­an duo in the Sen­ate is also tak­ing on the corn-eth­an­ol man­date.

Sens. Di­anne Fein­stein, D-Cal­if., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., have been work­ing to­geth­er for months to draft le­gis­la­tion that would elim­in­ate the corn-eth­an­ol por­tion of the RFS com­pletely.

Their le­gis­la­tion is ex­pec­ted to be re­leased soon. 

However, any le­gis­la­tion com­ing out of the Sen­ate that seeks to lower the re­new­able volume ob­lig­a­tions un­der the man­date will face op­pos­i­tion from Sen. Bar­bara Box­er, D-Cal­if., the chair­wo­man of the En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee.

At the close of Wed­nes­day’s hear­ing, Box­er is­sued a warn­ing to any sen­at­or who hopes to see changes made to the pro­gram.

“As chair­man of this com­mit­tee, and I have the gavel for now, I’m not go­ing to let us re­verse course…. I’m just not,” she said.

“No pro­gram is per­fect that’s for sure, whatever it is; even in the private sec­tor, no new product is per­fect and no new mar­ket­ing strategy is per­fect at first. So we gotta work to­geth­er, and I’m will­ing to do that. But I just think over­all let’s not turn our back on a way to make sure we can be­come more en­ergy in­de­pend­ent and have a bet­ter en­vir­on­ment in the long run,” Box­er ad­ded.

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